Tips to help book your very own ‘nearly painless’ process

Thursday I received my first vaccination for COVID-19, and I feel like I have joined a secret club; that of those who beat Sault Ste. Marie’s vaccination registration system. It’s frustrating when you know that other regions and provinces aren’t facing the same difficulties, and when you learn that your twin city across the border has vaccines available … if you could only just get there.

I appreciate that everyone is doing their best, but the level of frustration around booking for COVID-19 vaccinations in the Sault is reaching a fever-pitch, so much so that we might have to declare symptoms and book off essential work. I’ve tried to share my methodology and insights into the process on social media, and for those of you not following me @theinkran, here is what I’ve learned. As a reminder, this is not medical advice, this is just one person’s ramblings which may or may not help you:

I should take a step back. Firstly, here is the link to the local vaccine booking webpage:

Once on that page, you click Sault Ste. Marie GFL Memorial Gardens and scroll down to see the dates and vaccines available. Remember that ages 12-17 need to get the Pfizer vaccine. If you are older than that, you can get Pfizer or Moderna.

If all of the times are full, scroll down further and register yourself with the pharmacies. You have to do this one by one, and the process takes approximately around two minutes per pharmacy. They ask the same screening questions, so it gets faster once you’ve completed one or two.

Alternatively, you can call the Algoma Public Health booking line at 705-541-1370.

Now, for the unofficial version. Don’t trust the website. APH randomly opens up new spots for vaccinations, including on the long weekend (when so many of us didn’t check). You need to be online right when booking opens up or you won’t get a booking. The webpage online used to state when it was last updated, but that seems to have disappeared, and it doesn’t state when new appointments will be released either. That means, set your alarm daily at 9 a.m. to check online for more spots. That said, on May 26, the website opened up new spots before 9 a.m. and luckily my daughter noticed and we already had one appointment booked before 9 a.m.

Even when the website says that all of their spots are full, call 705-541-1370 and see if there are appointments available. Every time they open online appointments there are also appointments set aside for callers. “Full” on the website does not refer to caller appointments. Also, they get cancellations, and you can access these spots through the telephone. This phone line does not seem to open until exactly 9 a.m.

If you have a reason for essential travel that will admit you across the United States border, you can get a letter from your Canadian doctor and go without an appointment across the river for the free vaccine of your choice at several locations. Having this letter means that you do not need a negative PCR test to come back across the border.

There is a part of me that thinks that this whole booking fiasco is part of a very effective marketing plan to increase desire for the vaccine, as people want what they can’t get. It feels similar to trying to get seats for a concert for a popular musician who hasn’t toured in years. At least the vaccine is free, and scalpers aren’t an issue. But most importantly, I got my first shot and hope this helps you to get yours as well.

I can definitely assure you that the onsite handling of vaccinations at the GFL is highly efficient and flawless (except that they need a garbage at the exit for all the stickers you wear, as some people are sticking them to surfaces at the exit). I was in and out in 25 minutes, and it was nearly painless in every way.

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